Recently there have been many disasters, large and small, being brought to our attention. The "advantage" of faster communication. In the past, we were informed of these occurrences as historical interest since the event was in the distant past. There was no need to appeal for instant help. The event was over. People were reminded to give to relief organizations who could stage relief units to be in place to react locally. Now we hear about them as they go on. People of good will want to help. The question comes with how to help.
Disasters are classified on a couple of terms. Each term defines the kind of help most needed or even able to be given.
Static or dynamic.
An earthquake is static. It happens, it is over. Aftershocks are separate occurences and may or may not add to the problems.
Fire is dynamic. Until it is declared to be "contained" the area that needs help is not clearly defined. It also precludes any assistance other than removal from the danger.
Small disasters are those that will not overwhelm the local disaster response system. Fires in homes or apartments are examples. A few hundred people may be involved at the most.
Large disasters are those that overwhelm the local resources and may, in fact, include the local responders. Earthquakes are a prime example.
One of the first things many people are moved to do, with good intent, is to donate old clothes they do not wear and food they do not eat. They take it to be processed by a local chapter of a national or international relief agency. They honestly believe that these things will get to some "deserving" victim. The truth is, it will not.
Here is the truth of the matter. When a victim deserves help they get the basics.
Shelter is arranged. For a short time it will be the gymnasium or auditorium of a school. Longer term is for a few days at a local hotel/motel. After this the person must make other arrangements.
Food and Water
Food may be temporarily provided by the local relief organization in a group setting. FEW, if any, shelter locations have access to cooking facilities. Prepared food is brought in. The ones that do bring in bulk food from local suppliers. The cooks do not have time to open several cans of small foodstuffs much less try to accommodate foodstuffs send in small amounts in the meal planning. The time to provide a "new food" experience is not during the stressful time of dealing with a fresh disaster.
They are given Debit Cards to buy clothes. If all they have is underwear, they need clothes NOW. They cannot wait for clothes to be delivered from your distant location. More on clothes later.
Why am I writing about this at all? It is because people with good intent try to help but actually do not. They even make things worse for the relief agencies.
You donate your old clothes. You feel good that you have "helped" some "poor" soul. You actually have not helped those you intend to help. Let us review what happens to clothes that are donated.
Adding Time and Expense
The clothes have to be sorted several times.
First they have to be checked to see if they are usable (there are people that donate 'rags' to get the tax deduction).
Then they have to be disinfected. I know YOU do not send clothes with infectious diseases but it only takes ONE. You just added cost to your donation. (Labor will be assumed to be free from volunteers).
Next the clothes have to be packed for shipment (cost of packaging materials)
The packages are transported (cost of transportation to the shipping location, transportation to a central receiving area, transportation to the local area).
The next sorting. Male:female Adult:child (Have you EVER seen racks of clothing anywhere in the news films of shelters?- hint - they don't exist). Then you assume that YOUR style will appeal to someone that just lost everything...
Food tends to be regional. What you eat may not be what the victim is used to. Besides, you are donating food that you do NOT eat. (How old is that food? At or beyond the "best used by" date)
Food requires sorting, packaging, and shipping just like clothes would (if they were actually sent).
Packaging of odds and ends results in odd shaped things having to be handled. (More delay)
So what DOES happen to the food and clothes you donate? If the organization has a "thrift" store, the clothes will be sorted, cleaned and sold there. If the organization provides direct relief to local disaster victims, the food will be set aside in boxes and bags to be given at the next local disaster.
NONE of the food and clothes you donate helps the victims of the disaster you were moved to assist.
If they are naked, they need clothes NOW. IF the clothes you donate actually were sent, they would not arrive for AT LEAST 3 days and more likely a week. Would you like to be naked that long? Would you tolerate being naked that long? Do you want to wear someone's cast offs?
About the food. Did you send water? People can exist about 3 days without water. They can survive a week waiting for your food to arrive however? Do you want the relief agency to withhold food until your donation arrives?
What about those nice pictures of the cargo planes being loaded with goodies? Those are pallets of water, shelters (tents) and very basic food stuffs (rice and other universal type foods). They are preloaded in specific sizes and amounts calculated to be able to be handled at the receiving end easily.
Some people have tried to send a truck load of relief goods to large disasters. Those are stopped by police and rarely allowed in. The drivers have no precise location in mind, have not made arrangements with the civil authorities in charge or coordinated with anyrelief organization for a place to go.
Immediate Help: MONEY
What happens if you send money? Within an hour (actually much faster), the relief agency on the ground at the disaster has it to provide IMMEDIATE relief to the victim and how the victim needs it most. If you really want to help the disaster victims that moved you to try, send money. If you want to help the next one, send food and clothes.